An estimated 4 per cent of adults and 8 per cent of children in the EU - the total population tops 380 million - suffer from food allergies, according to the European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients' Associations.
After combing through medical databases, scientists at Michigan State University in the US found a significant increase in the number of reports of hypersensitivity to sesame since the first report from the US in 1950.
Under the European Directive 2003/89/EC, amending Directive 2000/13, from November this year food makers must flag up a host of allergen ingredients, including sesame seeds, on the food label.
But the FDA has yet to include sesame in its list of major food allergens for use in food labelling.
According to the authors, in spite of the growing use of sesame seed and oil in the food, pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries, research and public awareness on sesame allergy are very limited.
It is widely used in the baking industry, where, say the researchers, there are reports of occupational allergy (asthma and urticaria) to sesame involving bakers.
A prevalence study of immediate hypersensitivity in Australian children found that sesame fell in fourth place, behind eggs, milk and peanuts.
Among Israeli children sesame was the third most common food causing sensitisation, following eggs and cow's milk; and second only to cow's milk as a leading cause of anaphylaxis - a severe, system-wide allergic reaction that is potentially fatal.
Almost any food can trigger a hypersensitivity reaction in sensitised people, but most food allergies are caused by eight major foods: milk, eggs, fish, wheat, tree nuts, legumes (particularly peanuts and soybeans), crustaceans and molluscs.
There is no current cure for a food allergy, and vigilance by an allergic individual is the only way to prevent a reaction.
European Directive 2003/89/EC heralds the mandatory inclusion on food labels of the most common food allergen ingredients and their derivatives: cereals containing gluten, fish, crustaceans, egg, peanut, soy, milk and dairy products including lactose, nuts, celery, mustard, sesame seed, and sulphites.
Full findings are published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, 2005;95:4-11.